Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Wrong Attitude About Home Sales Increase

A news story in the San Antonio Express News was intended to be a positive reflection of the local Real Estate market. Finally. But talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth! The two key people quoted in this story cast more of a negative on it than enforcing it for the positive it should be.

And these two key people are supposed to be there to HELP get more homes sold. This turns into another example of how it is careless advertising and marketing which is hurting the real estate industry as much as anything else.

Please understand this is not a personal attack. It is to make an important point to realty agents and to those in the industry about how much they can hurt their own cause.

The Express News story quotes the Chairman of the San Antonio Board of Realtors (SABOR) about the 25th consecutive month of a local rise in home sales. Instead of using this opportunity to point out how wonderful it is that this is now a 2-year trend, he is quoted as saying "Even with things not being as big of an increase, it's still an increase".

Say what? The head honcho of the realty association gets quoted in the major local newspaper as saying this increase in home sales is not a big deal. Sheesh.

But there is more. He also claims, in this story, that housing inventory remains limited, as he sees it, with an average of more than four months to sell a listing. Four months? To make it worse, he is quoted as saying that "Anything less than six months is a seller's market".

Sorry, but this is a horrible quote for a potential buyer to read. If you are looking at homes for sale in an area of San Antonio, and see that most of the homes you are looking at have been listed for more than FOUR months, wouldn't you think there must be reasons why these homes are NOT selling?

Then, later in the story, an agent from a prominent local realty firm is quoted as being concerned that appraisers have to "go back as much as six months" for comparable sales figures. As if what most appraisers, who have contributed a ton of harm to the real estate market by including distressed property sale prices within their valuations, need to do is of concern to a potential buyer and seller.

Here is what could and SHOULD be a very positive story about the local home market being turned into a "Gee, we don't know" mood. All both people quoted had to do was comment about how "This trend is helping all concerned since more homes are being sold each month".

A sorry "half empty" approach when the cup is finally more than half full.


Friday, December 6, 2013

How the IRS Could Help The Real Estate Market - Soon

January 1, 2014 is scheduled to be the end of the "Mortgage Foreclosure Debt Forgiveness Act" that Congress passed in 2007 but finally expires at the end of this month. This action figures to significantly reduce the number of "short sales" around the country, and that is GREAT news for thousands (if not millions) of potential home sellers.

Here is why. Not having this "Act" in place will mean that a property sold via a "Short Sale" (from which the bank approves a reduced amount to satisfy the loan amount due) will no longer relieve the individual home owner/seller of the tax responsibility for the remaining value of the house. Of course, no one wants to see property owners who have lost their home suffer any more of a financial hardship of thousands of dollars more.

For example, suppose a home with a mortgage of $150,000 is sold (after Jan. 1st) as a "Short Sale" for only $100,000, as approved by the bank holding the loan. Without the Mortgage Foreclosure Debt Forgiveness Act" in place, it will mean that the home owner would now be held responsible for taxes on the "remaining" $50,000. This could mean a tax bill of $10,000 to $15,000 for that "owner".

The positive in this, as I see it, is that this situation is likely to discourage the majority of short sale candidates from going this route. The fewer short sales there are, the better, since the biggest reason for the stall in the real estate market is the sales of distressed properties at unfair prices.

Not having short sales and foreclosures taking up a percentage of available listings in most cities will mean that "real" home sellers will be able to ask and receive realistic prices once again.

What kills me is that the National Association of Realtors President has actually spoken out against this Act ending. I suppose that is an "in the public eye" comment to appear not in support of higher tax bills for home sellers. But I don't get it.

The NAR is actually part of the housing problem, based on their members "accepting" short sale and foreclosure property sale prices as if they reflect on the value of area properties. These short sale and distressed property sales are really to satisfy a loan, and should not reflect upon home sale statistics. But they have for these past few years, and that has destroyed home sale prices.

With fewer and fewer short sales resulting, home prices will get back to reality sooner, and that is good for the majority of the people. Again, I don't like to see people get a hefty tax bill, but it should be them taking a financial hit ahead of millions of people losing money on their homes.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

When One Picture Destroys A Thousand Words

Those who wonder why I am now putting the finishing touches on an entire book about the right way to sell a home should take a look at the ad I randomly found for a townhome in Seattle.

It is another example of "what NOT to do", as advertised by an agent with a nationally known real estate company in the Seattle Times and on its web site.

The primary photo that shows is "1 of 10" photos, but is the only photo that shows up, and provides the all-important first impression. However, the only reason I looked at the other nine photos was because I knew this needs to be presented here.

The "first impression" photo is deadly. It shows a car parked in the driveway in front of one of three garage doors. First of all, it is NOT good practice to show a parked car on a property in a public forum, for security reasons among others. In this context, it makes a viewer wonder if there is room enough to park a car inside the garage.

Furthermore, the first two words of the primary description copy are "Modern townhome". Since the primary photo shows three garage doors (not to mention the car parked outside of one of them), a viewer is immediately confused as to whether the building shown is all ONE unit or if the townhome for sale is one unit within that building. Frankly, after reading the entire ad, I still don't know.

In addition, the description includes some confusing terminology. The first sentence is "Modern townhome with creative spaces and fantastic finishes". Huh?

The next sentence starts with "Enjoy radiant concrete flooring". So help me. Makes me wonder if the furniture is located behind the garage doors and that is why the car in the photo is parked outside. How many homes are you aware of with "concrete flooring" as a selling point?

A later sentence tells us that "The kitchen is a 'work horse' and features a gas range". Are you ready to offer the $295,000 asking price yet?

At the end of the description copy we are informed that this ad was "Updated: 10-02-13". The day I discovered this ad was 12-03-13, more than two months later. This means that nothing about this ad, or the asking price, has changed in more than two months.

Why is this so aggravating? Because I then clicked to see the remaining photos. And most of them are quite impressive.

That is why it is so important to have the primary photo enhance the description copy, and vice versa. A potential buyer is not given ANY solid reason to click to see more. Especially not with 29 other listings which came up within the same area and price range I had entered.

Had one of the good interior photos been used and the description copy been written more realistically, chances are pretty good this townhome would have been sold by now.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Orange You Glad You Are Not This Home Seller?

For those who still don't believe that advertising and marketing are of the utmost importance to get a home sold, try this one on for size.

This afternoon I did a random search, via the web site of the Orange County Register, for a single family home priced in the $300,000 to $325,000 range.

The very first listing which appeared, at the top of my search (low price to high price) happened to be one at 3302 E. Radcliffe Ave. in Anaheim. My first impression was the exterior photo, which clearly showed TWO vehicles parked in the driveway.

Showing even one vehicle on the property is considered a huge "no no" within the real estate community, even before the heightened security concerns of the past fifteen years. Before looking any further, I had a reason to question the real estate agent and company representing this property.

But my concern did not stop there.

Right there, on the thumbnail for the listing, next to the photo with the two vehicles showing, was the detail, "Posted 276 days ago". Granted, it is not the fault of the realty agent that the length of time on the market is posted so prominently. However, this means that the agent has had literally NINE MONTHS to change the photo to not show any vehicles, but did not.

My next step was to click on this property to see what I could find out. And then I saw the "description copy":

"3 Bedrooms 2 Bath in a Residential neighborhood. Central Air & Heat.Close the freeways 91 & 57Minor repairs needed. Sold AS-IS"

Believe it or not, this home is shown as being listed through an agent with a nationally known real estate company.

Let's get this straight. The agent's first "fact" to present to a potential buyer is that the home is "in a Residential neighborhood". Please don't rush to your phone to contact the agent upon learning this. Oh my.

Perhaps he meant to say "close TO freeways...." in the next sentence, and is not asking that those highways be closed. But 276 days later???

This is all he can tell us about a home listed at $300,000?

Face it, even in a good real estate market, this home doesn't have a prayer of selling if this is how it is being advertised.

Frankly, it is bad enough that the seller of this home hasn't demanded a change in this so-called advertisement. But I also can't believe that other local realty agents have not stepped in either. If I was an investor looking for a "good deal" and didn't care where it came from, keep in mind that this home comes up FIRST on a search by price. How much incentive is this to continue looking down the row?

For that matter, out of ten homes which showed on the first property search page, not one of them had been on the market for less than 30 days. With ZERO urgency, there is no telling how long some of these properties will sit on the market.

And if they ever do, you had better believe it won't be anywhere near the $300,000+ asking prices.

Worse yet, this is due to poor advertising and marketing. Not the current real estate market.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Will Rockets TV Take Off?

Perhaps the biggest sports media story of the year could have its next important development early next week, where a Houston Bankruptcy Court will be the location for a hearing regarding the status of CSN Houston and its future (or lack thereof) of televising the Rockets and Astros games.

This hearing, scheduled for Monday (10/28) at press time, could determine the short-term status of CSN Houston. Which, of course, would also play a role in determining its long-term status. The Astros are looking to get out from under their original deal with CSN Houston which was structured to provide significant income for the team, but has resulted in barely 40% of the local cable and satellite market being able to receive the games. On the other hand, the Rockets, whose regular season with star acquisition Dwight Howard begins next week, are looking for CSN Houston to continue based on a different revenue guarantee than the Astros deal has.

You can be sure that other pro teams will be watching this one closely. Teams such as the Dodgers and Rangers are getting ready to embark on similar huge long-term TV deals, while other teams are eyeing those while counting the days until they can begin negotiations. If the Astros, who were reportedly not paid millions due from the 2013 regular season contract, are forced to continue with CSN Houston and do not receive the multi-millions they were expecting, look for a ripple effect in "new" negotiations around the country as local and regional networks will be less likely to pull the trigger.

Given how much money sports and non-sports fans now pay for their cable and/or satellite TV, without new and even more inflated contracts in place, it will be interesting to see the fallout from this upcoming ruling, if it happens. There is, of course, the possibility of a postponement or continuation.

Meanwhile, ESPN/ABC has finally addressed its long standing (2 seasons) need to have a true host for its NBA studio programming surrounding game telecasts. Sage Steele has been named as the host of NBA Countdown on Fridays and Sundays, even though not yet for those Wednesday night telecasts ESPN provides. With the recently added Doug Collins, along with Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons, the studio will still be crowded with analysts wanting their air time, but at least having a host will hopefully restore order. Why Wednesdays nights are not including Steele is a bit of a mystery, although those nights also will not include Collins and the others. Instead, Doris Burke will be joined by Avery Johnson and Jalen Rose for the studio segments.

The start of the NBA season next week brings its fans four consecutive nights of national doubleheaders, even though a couple of teams will be shown multiple times at the start.
TNT starts with a special opening night doubleheader on Tuesday 10/29 (potentially against Game 6 of the World Series) with Chicago at Miami (including the Heat's championship ring ceremony) followed by the Los Angeles Lakers vs. Clippers. On Wednesday 10/30, NBA-TV airs a live doubleheader with Brooklyn at Cleveland followed by the Lakers (again) at Golden State. On Thursday 10/31, TNT airs a pair with New York at Chicago (again) followed by Golden State (again) at the L. A. Clippers (again). Then, on Friday 11/1, ESPN debuts its studio show with Sage Steele and Doug Collins with the fourth doubleheader in four nights. The opener has Miami (again) at Brooklyn (again), while the late game has the Lakers (3rd straight game) hosting San Antonio. NBA-TV already has single telecast scheduled for each of the following three nights.

ATLANTA: Braves radio remains in WCNN 680 as part of a multi-year renewal, with Jim Powell and Don Sutton remaining as the broadcast team. The games will be moving down the FM dial, with News 106.7 taking over the broadcasts, which had aired on Rock 100.5 since the 2010 season.

LOS ANGELES: With the Dodgers' new TV package set to start with the 2014 season, the play-by-play team has yet to be determined for the road games which Vin Scully does not call. Word is that Eric Collins and Steve Lyons have been dropped. Speculation includes Orel Hersheiser, whose contract with ESPN is up after the World Series ends.

CHARLOTTE: WFNZ 610 The Fan has let go of Brett Jensen about about three years with the station. The Fan has extended "Bustin' Loose with Frank Garcia" from 10 AM to 2 PM, and the afternoon show with Taylor Zarzour and Mark James from 2 to 6 PM weekdays.

MONTEREY CAL: Having those "contests" for a shift on a sports radio station are bad enough when they are for the Sunday overnight slot or some other "Who cares?" time slot, but this one takes the cake. KIDD 630 went as far as to hold on-air auditions with six finalists for a "possible" on-air slot with the station. When? From 3 PM to 5 PM on weekdays. I had to look at the calendar to be see how close this is to April 1st, but it's not. Maybe by the time it is, there will be a contest to audition for station manager.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

When Opinions Are Not News

The opinions of professional broadcasters, unless directly involved, are NOT news stories. At least they should not be. However, this past week brought still another instance where this comes into question. As many of you know, Bob Costas went on at halftime of Sunday Night Football (on 10/13) and gave his opinion about the Washington Redskins team name not being changed. Costas is most certainly entitled to express and opinion, and was able to do that to a large national audience, providing the opportunity for viewers to agree or disagree. No problem there.

However, where I do have a problem is how this became a "news" story and was actually reported by other networks and stations around the country. Say what?

I will grant you that at this moment in time I am not a News Director or Sports Director who is in charge of making decisions about what gets reported. But I will tell you that if I were at this moment, there is ZERO chance that I would tolerate any of the writers or reporters in my command to put a story on the air about Bob Costas' opinion. Whether I agree with it or not.

Of course, I understand that the recent outcry over the Redskins team name has been in the news of late. But a national sportscaster expressing his (or her) feelings about it is NOT news. If a station, network, web site, or publication wishes to "report" on this story, then do so by presenting facts about it and/or an opinion of someone directly involved.

This is far from the only time a TV or radio broadcaster has expressed what is merely an opinion and had it be treated as if it is newsworthy. Sports fans have had to put up with stories about things that Charles Barkley has said, among others. Although Barkley was a Hall of Fame caliber player, he, like Costas, is paid by at least one TV network to provide analysis, opinions, and related broadcasting duties.

Yet, other media, often networks competing for those same sports viewers, seem to treat such opinions and commentaries as if they are big news items. If the story being commented on is that big of a deal, then pick up the phone or grab the camera and get reaction from a team official or someone directly impacted by the subject.

Personally, I was not watching at halftime, and did not see the Costas commentary, since I had switched to the baseball playoff game. Yet, I heard about what Costas said from several different media sources, including local TV stations, within the 24 hours after. I should either have not known that Costas said anything, or at the most have seen something about it on an NBC or Comcast sports related web site.

While Sunday Night Football continues to deliver ratings for NBC, and NBC Sports Network is getting a boost from the start of the NHL regular season, it is otherwise quiet. The fact that both NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network were making a big deal about adding college hockey telecasts for this season reflects that. Although it is live programming instead of some of the hours of filler programming both networks have, I'm not seeing a demand for more college hockey at the national level.

Over at Fox Sports, it has been a mixed bag of late. Fox is doing very well with the exciting (as of press time) Red Sox vs. Tigers ALCS, including a ratings gain on Sunday (10/13) night, even going against Sunday Night Football on NBC. That telecast set a LCS ratings record for Fox in Detroit, which had a higher local rating than Boston. The early series ratings for Fox were up more than 20% across the board compared with their NLCS games last October.

However, Fox Sports 1 actually showed a game on Saturday (10/12) that was actually worthy of attracting a big audience, but failed to do so. The Oregon vs. Washington telecast, with the #2 team in the country against another ranked team, finished with a 1.3 overnight rating. In comparison, CBS (Florida vs. LSU), ESPN (Michigan - Penn State), and ABC (regional games including Clemson vs. BC and Northwestern vs. Wisconsin) all showed much higher ratings.

It was interesting that Fox Sports 1 did beat one other national telecast with this game. That was the Baylor vs. Kansas State game on Fox Sports, also seen over-the-air.

On the other hand, CBS reports that its SEC telecasts are, thus far into the season, averaging the highest ratings in 12 seasons.

CHICAGO: CSN Chicago has added another full-time anchor and reporter with the addition of Kelly Crull, formerly with Fox Sports San Diego.

WVMP ESPN 1000 will be airing at least 17 games of the University of Illinois Chicago's basketball games this season, with Dave Juday and former UIC player Ken Williams on the call. The station will air every game which does not conflict with its schedule of Chicago Bulls broadcasts and ESPN national games it carries.

CLEVELAND: WEWS-TV Channel 5 has added Kenny Roda to its football coverage effective immediately. Roda will participate on "Tailgate Saturday" Ohio State coverage, among other duties. He had recently lost his gig at WKNR after roughly 20 years there.

WKRK 92.3 has added T.J. Zuppe to its staff on what is reportedly a part-time basis. Zuppe had also previously worked for WKNR as well. Zuppe replaces Matt Loede, who had covered the Indians and Cavaliers beats this past season before being let go by the station last week.

LOS ANGELES: As Time Warner Cable gets set to begin its first season of Lakers telecasts under its expensive new package, the network is adding an all-star team of analysts. I'm not sure how having a total of FOUR analysts on the telecasts is not major overload, but James Worthy and Robert Horry will have even more company. Byron Scott and Luke Walton have been added to the on-air staff, with both added to the pre-game and post-game shows.

NEW ORLEANS: WWWL 1350 has dropped ESPN Radio and cut back on its sports programming. Although a local sports talk show is in the works for at least one weekday shift, the station has reduced to merely airing NBC Sports Radio for nights and overnight.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Picture This Alabama Home

Not everyone agrees with me that a big part of the reason that homes do not sell fast enough and/or for the prices they should is because of how poorly they are advertised and marketed.

If ever there was a prime example, it is this ad for a home in the Montgomery AL area, listed at $199,000.

This advertisement, for a 4 bedroom 3 bath home, was one of SEVERAL shown at the same price as found via the Montgomery daily newspaper's statewide online network search.

I chose to look at this particular home, at 38 Travertine Dr in Pike Road, AL because of the primary photo being difficult to comprehend as a thumbnail.

When I opened up the full web page devoted to the property, I quickly understood why. The photo is taken from an angle looking DIRECTLY into the sun, making the upper portion of the photo too bright to see detail. Incredibly, the rest of the photo shows the home under construction, compete with the siding visible and what looks to be debris and supplies instead of a front lawn. There are NO other photos available.

Even more incredibly, the one paragraph description has NO mention that the home is not finished. Therefore, either the photo is way outdated, OR the advertiser left out an important piece of information if there is NO house at this point in time.

The description copy includes the phrase "This is a must see at only $199,900". A "must see" that anyone looking at the photo cannot see?

This advertisement goes on to invite viewers to come visit the model home for the builder, and gives an address on a different street without a city. And no directions or any indication of the community it is located in.

I'll say this again. This is not the only property shown on my search at this same price. The other advertisements I could have opened up all had photos of "real" homes with the promise of several photos.

Incredibly, the web site claimed that this page (for the home on Travertine) had been UPDATED on the very day I found this. Which means that someone, somehow, somewhere, actually approved to continue running it this way.

Sure. If this home doesn't sell, blame it on the housing market. Right?


Friday, September 27, 2013

When "Bend" Could Break This Seller

No matter what the condition of the real estate market, the advertising and marketing of million dollar and up listings is always a challenge. There are always fewer potential buyers to go around. Even more concerning is that, frankly, it is not always the sharpest of realty agents that work their way up toward handling the luxury and high end properties.

This becomes an even bigger challenge when a listing is in or near a small town or community which often depends on luring in a buyer from out of area.

With this in mind, I decided to look for a current advertisement for a million dollar "plus" home in Bend, Oregon, which is a smaller community that I personally have never been to. Therefore, I would need to know something about the area as well as its "best" listings.

I went to the Bend Bulletin (local newspaper) web site and searched. Instead of my usual random pick of a listing, I decided to go for my "least" first impression and comment on that.

Out of ten listings that came up from my initial search, the home at 17062 Cooper Drive caught my attention above all of the others. Here is why.

The search page, even for homes at over $1,000,000, came up, like most, with one thumbnail photo and the first part of the description copy. In other words, it is intended to be (and NEEDS to be) the most flattering photo and most enticing description. With, in this instance, nine other homes to choose from, the first impression is of the utmost importance.

Keeping in mind that I did this search during September, I was amazed to find the photo of this listing showing snow on the ground and covering the home. I literally moved up closer to my computer screen and noticed that I could not see any shoveled or cleared path (not even a sidewalk) leading to the front steps of this home or to the snow covered porch. Incredibly, I could not see a garage or driveway! And this is for a home listed (at press time) for $,1395,000.

Thus, my first visual impression was a large home surrounded by snow, and this is September!

Next, I started reading the less than two sentences of the description next to this photo. And it begins by saying "This amazing 1.25 acre property has seven bedrooms......".

Let me add that one of the homes in the same area, listed at $1,499,000, which showed ABOVE this Cooper Drive estate, shows "A gated estate on 25.72 acres....." at the beginning of its thumbnail description.

Notice the significance of this first impression. I looked at this Cooper Drive thumbnail to see a photo of a snowbound home with seemingly no easy access, after having seen another property in the same general area with NO snow and with literally 24 MORE acres available for about $100,000 more.

If you were looking in the community of Bend for a property valued at near one and one-half million dollars (and it was September), which of those two properties would you gravitate toward?

Chances are you said the larger property.

This is my point. There is the importance of a first impression. One agent placed a flattering photo and started right off with the huge size of the lot and location within a gated community, while another uses a photo outdated by months and a poor comparison fact up at the beginning.

It didn't matter what else came after, because potential buyers are far less likely to click on the Cooper Drive home for more information. Again, chances are most of the potential buyers are from out of area, meaning that a couple of miles of location makes no difference. The street address means nothing, in this instance.

I did go ahead and click on the listing detail page. And I found that it gets worse for the seller. A big part of the description copy which followed touches upon the large deck and the hot tub. Below that, the first of the features of the property detail was "central air".

Normally, those factors are not a problem. Might even be important to a potential buyer. However, the only photo I have seen, to this point, shows the home as if it is snowbound. Hardly a fit for sitting on the deck or in the hot tub, let alone being concerned about the air conditioning.

What makes this more frustrating is that there are several additional photos available on the full page advertisement, and most of them are very flattering for the listing. Simply put, all this agent had to do (and should have done) was to pull the snow photo completely, and re-arrange the copy to highlight the features of the interior.

But since the listing agent did not do this, I'm afraid that the sellers on Cooper Drive will face the upcoming winter being snowed in at their unsold estate.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Watching The Competition Helps To Sell

While researching for my upcoming book about selling "your" home and getting the price "you" want, I stumbled across an agent doing an effective job of selling against the current local competition. That is all too rare of a find, even in this uncertain market.

Among the many problems with how agents advertise properties is that the vast majority of property advertisements do little to nothing to combat the "competition". As a home seller, you should be making sure your agent knows how and why to distinguish your home from others nearby.

I found the ad for a home at 3803 Landlubber St. in Orlando by looking for the home with the most bedrooms in its price range, and then looking to see if or how the listing agent presents it. Usually all this type of search does is provide me with more ammunition for my book and for my clients. But not this time.

This advertised home has five bedrooms, more than any other Orlando home within the $10,000 price range I chose. While I will grant you that a city wide search brings a lot of different quality neighborhoods and communities into play, I also couldn't help but notice that this nice looking five bedroom home is priced at less than a 3-bedroom home which is a foreclosure.

Although the specific ad, which I found on HomeFinder via a search on the Orlando Sentinel web site, could use some improving (as do about 99% of them!), I'm considering this one to be a positive because of the first impression it provides.

Having just one photo of any property, especially when most other ads in the same city and price range have multiple photos easily available, is not a good thing. At least in this instance the photo used is a very flattering exterior shot showing a well maintained lawn and garden, driveway and attached garage, and a well painted and trimmed home. It did make me want to see more, even though it is frustrating not to be able to.

The description copy highlights facts which are "outside" of the home, such as the fenced pool, new a/c unit, corner lot, "A" list schools, and being near restaurants and shops. Those are all important and, in this case, positive facts, which, again, makes me want to find out more.

This description copy also includes mention that "This is not a short sale or foreclosure so there is a quick response to all offers".

Sticking with this copy for a moment, it is all positive. Chances are the potential buyer for a five-bedroom home has a big family. Having an attached garage, pool, a large lot, and being near "A" schools are likely important factors for initial consideration.

Pointing out the home is "not" a short sale or foreclosure is not always a necessary thing. But in this case, when it is priced among other homes, with FEWER bedrooms, in the same price range which are, this mention is a direct attack on "competition" properties in the same city.

That includes area homes whether short sale, foreclosure, or not. This ad is basically saying "You get at least one more bedroom and these benefits for the same price!". And I like this approach.

We can also tell that his home had been listed for exactly two weeks (as of the day this is written), unlike other area homes which have been listed for months.

It's good to see the listing agent presenting this listing with benefits against the other homes in the same price range, instead of on its own merit. You see, my search was for "2+" bedrooms, and this was the only five-bedroom home that came up within the $10,000 I selected. Obviously, anyone looking for a five-bedroom home in this area would also pull up this property. The fact that I wasn't but it came up and appears favorable against two, three, and four bedroom homes in the same city is a strong one.

Of course, this ad could use some improving upon. The fact that there are no interior photos and no mention of anything specific to a five-bedroom home does make me skeptical. I could not find anything about a basement and/or rec room, about the capabilities of the kitchen (where meals for a lot of people would be created), paint, carpet, closets, or storage.

Even though the lack of information about the interior is a glaring omission, I can just about let it go for this example for one important reason. There just might be enough here that if I really was looking to buy it might get me to contact the agent for more details. Of course, that agent had better be ready to promote the amenities inside, or I'd be on to the next property and another agent quite quickly.

A good start on how to sell against other homes in the area!


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

No "Saxon" Appeal For This Allentown Home

Here is another example of why the advertising is the problem. A 2-bedroom home in a respectable neighborhood (Allentown PA) priced at $135,000, but it hasn't sold in more than four months of being listed.

It's not hard to understand why. Let's review the advertisement. I found this property and this ad via random search through the Allentown Morning Call web site, which links to an outside web site for this ad for 2725 Saxon Street, now at $132,000 (as of press time).

The primary photo, always a key part of the first impression, shows a big tree in the front yard which blocks our view of part of the home. Although there is nothing wrong with a big tree in the yard for a lot of people, having it impede our initial view does not make much sense. Especially when you look further and realize that the home clearly sits on a hill.

Looking at the larger version of this photo, it is easy to see that the lawn is NOT well maintained, and that there is a path in the lawn from people walking across the grass to get to the front door. Already, it shows carelessness on the part of the seller, and that is not good either.

Before even reading the description copy, I went through the remainder of the photos. One of the additional exterior photos shows the back yard, and reveals an equally uncared for lawn. These exterior photos show a potential buyer that it will take a lot of work before walking inside. Not good.

But that's not all. The interior photos reveal that the home is empty. As a result, a potential buyer has no means to imagine what their furniture might look like inside, since they cannot grasp the size (or lack thereof) of an empty room. And it gets worse.

The photos of the basement make it difficult to determine whether the surface is a real floor or carpet. This shows a potential buyer that there could be plenty of upgrading to make the basement worthwhile, again, before learning more about the home.

Then, the photo of a bathroom reveals a two-tone room, with a light green paint job on half with white paint on the other half. By this time, I couldn't help but wonder if it was half a paint job to cover something else or what happened. However, the worst part of this photo (which, again, is supposed to help to sell this place) is that we can clearly see either a large dent or mark in the wall near the door handle that is not explained.

Next, it was on to the description. This is where the "sizzle" is supposed to be, and this home is listed through a reputable national realty firm.

So how does the copy begin? "Price reduction! Sellers are motivated! Welcome to your Home Sweet Home located at.....".

OK, I'll bite. If the sellers are "motivated", why didn't they leave at least some furniture in the photos to give a potential buyer an idea of what the house COULD look like? Why are they long gone?

Upon further reading, we learn that that the "newer" roof and water heater were both "installed in 2009". Newer?

We learn that the "refrigerator, washer, and dryer are all included". How about that? Appliances included within a home purchase! 

And we learn about the "finished recreation room in the lower level", which I suppose is the basement photo I saw and couldn't even determine if it was ugly carpeting or bare floor in an empty room.

In addition, we are told that the price was recently reduced by $3,000, and the ad shows that it has been in place since April 2013, over four months ago.

Meanwhile, there were more than 20 more properties in the same general area priced within $10,000 of this one.

I simply do not see how a typical "buyer" would have any reason to pursue this property. Chances are that after four months, any local rehabber would have already looked into this home to see if it could be easily and affordably upgraded. But no takers.

How is a $3,000 price reduction going to attract anyone?

My point is that it doesn't matter how few or how many other area homes have sold in the past six months on and near Saxon Street. There is no reason for anyone to want this property (at least at this asking price) based on the way it is presented now. Again, the advertising and marketing is the problem.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Mountain of Denver Real Estate

Things appear to be looking up in the Denver area according to separate reports just issued. A realty firm issued a report showing that sellers are getting a larger percentage of their listing price this year compared with 2012 and that homes are spending about nine fewer days on the market compared with Summer 2012. MetroList shows an increase of available homes from April of this year to July 15, 2013.

Although neither report included comparisons to prices for these homes to prices prior to 2006, there are some positives with this information. It shows that there is reason to believe the Denver market is on the comeback trail.

However, as I continue to point out, more inventory means that each home for sale has more immediate and local competition. Thus, the need is still strong to properly advertise and promote each home for sale.

Trying this like a potential home buyer, I searched the site linked via the Denver Post (the largest local newspaper) in the $150,000 to $200,000 range for 2-bedroom single family homes in order starting with "lowest price".

I wasn't surprised with my finding, but am certainly disappointed. The very first house on the search (And how many agents would LOVE that placement?) merely served as another example of my point.

It was for a 3-bedroom home in Denver on Lowell Blvd. The primary photo not only showed a lawn in horrible condition (as much dirt as dead looking grass) but it turned out to be of the back yard. The "front view" photo also showed the terrible looking lawn and that there is (or did not appear to be) no garage, driveway, or on-property parking. The next photo showed the rear area with a mass of dirty concrete and a storage shed. Not one of these photos was flattering, to put it mildly.

Upon finally getting to the interior photos, we then see that the home is empty. In several photos, all we see is a dining room set, one chair, and the appliances. One of the photos shows what is either a basement or empty room with what is either concrete or horrible carpeting on there.

Simply put, not one of the photos (with the possible exception of a bathroom shot) adds any appeal to this property.

It took reading the description below to find out that two of the photos are to show the "new furnace", even though none of the photos reflect the "new carpeting" stated. We also then find out that there is a "rear driveway" for parking, even though this is not shown in any of the photos. We are also told that the sewer line "has been replaced".


Some of the next homes in my search had decent ads for them, but certainly not enough. If I was truly searching from out of area, I would probably have moved on after seeing that first ad, thinking if that was all $150,000 gets me I'd rather go elsewhere.

Just because the market conditions are better, it does not mean that an agent can be that careless about how a listing is advertised.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Attention To Detail In Marketing

If only the listing agents and sellers would check advertisements carefully before putting them out there. It doesn't help the industry, either.

This ad is for a home up for Short Sale in a Chicago IL suburb. In this case, the "problem" is not with the incredibly short copy that tells little to nothing about the interior.

The problem is in one of the photos, and not from the angle of the picture. There is an interior photo (as of this writing) that clearly shows a date of May 2, 2010 on it. Granted, this could actually be a recent photo and the camera was not set to the proper date. Nonetheless, it gives the appearance of being an old and outdated photo. Someone could think that no one could sell this place for more than three years and be scared into looking elsewhere.

I simply can't believe that an agent would allow this to be published. For that matter, the seller is under a Short Sale and obviously wants to move on with his or her life as well. Why don't those involved double check every advertisement?

To make matters worse, this is how it appears on Realtor.com. It's not some out-of-the-way publication that only the advertisers actually read.

I have no idea how copy such as "Looks like a model" to accompany the potentially outdated photo is acceptable as a sales pitch either, but that's for another column.

Yet, many agents and those in the industry continue to go with prior home sales statistics and other factors as being the primary reason that certain homes don't sell. Look again:


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Sales Trends Don't Tell The Story

Two "home sales" stories from this week coming from two different geographic and population density parts of the country bring two different stories. Or do they?

The Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors went ahead and published statistics which show a decline in local home sales over an 11 county region for June 2013 compared with June 2012, with a sale price decline of more than $9,800. When comparing June 2013 with May 2013 the report showed a 5% decrease in sales.

A few hundred miles northeast, the Philadelphia Office of the Controller issued a report showing an 18.5% increase in area home sales for June 2013 when compared with June 2012. This report went on to list the most "popular" neighborhoods, which were South Philadelphia, Fishtown, and Fairmount.

Same time period, but with results at the opposite end of the spectrum. That tells me these are not "different" stories.

What this means is that it is only a select few neighborhoods and communities that are turning around in terms of sales and pricing.

The latest from Fairfax County (VA) over the same June-to-June period can also be interpreted any one of a number of ways. An agency report claims the number of homes "on the market" throughout the County dropped by more than 15% from June 2012 to June 2013. Yet, the same report shows that the median home price actually increased about 7.5% during that same time.

In this instance, fewer homes on the market is the most likely reason for the price increase. Thus, a possible buyer in that area now has less bargaining power by not being able to show as many lower priced "comps" available in the area. A long-term real estate investor is also less likely to find a bargain to keep until the market returns to past levels.

From a selling standpoint, if hundreds or home owners in Fairfax County now decide to list, it would mean a short-term decrease in the percentage of listings sold, and likely expand the average time that homes are on the market.

Potential buyers and potential sellers have different reasons and motiviations to enter the market. An investor likely sees a sales decrease over the course of a full year as a reason to look elsewhere. A potential "move-in" buyer sees that decline as a reason to come in with lower offers because he/she now knows that it is a tougher sale.

Put all of this together, and what these stories all combine to tell us is that the market is still very much uncertain. That's not how it is supposed to be done.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sellers: Stay One "Strike" Ahead of Commuters

Good marketing of a home (or any property) for sale should include information about the area and relate to a potential buyer. It's too bad that most of what is out there does not.

One example of this is attracting a "commuter" to a home located within close proximity to a commuter train station. Before you attempt to sell, you should know how close your home is to a commuter train station, whether you personally use it or not.

With gas prices continuing to gouge consumers, a few dollars more in the mortgage could actually SAVE money to a commuter who drives a long distance each day. But that potential buyer won't know that if YOU don't point it out to them.

My long-time readers may recall my column a couple years back about Chicago area research showing a higher home price value of homes specifically located near the main commuter train line. On that same point, a similar column was recently published about proximity to the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) trains in the San Francisco Bay area, and its impact, especially right now due to the most recent transit strike.

Maxime Rieman of NerdWallet.com has provided us with an overview, which is reprinted with her permission:

A 2013 study commissioned by The American Public Transportation Association concluded that close proximity to a fixed-guideway transit system, those like BART, correlated with stable property values during the Great Recession. The study, entitled "The New Real Estate Mantra: Location Near Public Transportation," also found that while homes near commuter stations may command higher prices, they also help the owner save immensely on transportation costs. These factors often add up to a higher demand for real estate in close proximity to commuter lines.


However, there is a downside to living near public transit and, according to the Center for Housing Policy, it comes in the form of "nuisance effects." A particularly loud public transit system, for example, can negatively impact the value of residential property, as can pollution from fumes. But nuisance is often, though not always, outweighed by convenience and mobility; a young person wanting to commute safely to nightlife may fare better living closer to a light rail station, and put up with the noise that may come with it, rather than living in a far-removed suburb.


But these factors don't include strikes—and there's a reason: they're too infrequent and they don't last long enough.


So when would a strike actually affect a local real estate market? Well, there are a variety of answers, but the most obvious one is if the strike were to last months on end, if not for years—an unlikely scenario. More likely, however, is if there is a culture of labor strikes in a given area with transit—like there is in the San Francisco Bay Area. If such a culture exists and strikes become an all too common occurrence, the value of real estate surrounding public transit, both commercial and residential, will likely taper-off if only by a little bit. Again, this is hypothetical: even in the Bay Area there hasn't been enough public transit strikes to show a direct effect on the value of nearby real estate—it may marginally add to the cost of living, and, depending on the success of the strike, to what you pay into local taxes, but it won't have as big of an impact as, say, the number of housing units available.


And the number of housing units available is determined by demand. The Bay Area doesn't have one of the strongest real estate markets in the country without reason: there is a high demand by people in and wanting to be a part of the tech industry, because of the local culture, direct access to various industries and inherently, the well-paying jobs.


Oakland is a great example of this phenomenon: the city has one of the worst police forces in the nation (now being directly watched by the federal government) and a huge crime problem. The city shares BART with San Francisco, and it has its own public transit system AC Transit, on strike. But the real estate market is growing. The reason: cheaper real estate compared to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, direct access to what smaller tech firms need and a growing industry.


Now all this isn't to say that transit strikes don't have an impact. They do. The BART strike alone is estimated to cost the local economy nearly $200 million. But strikes—impermanent and sporadic—have a far smaller impact on the value of long-running real estate market. Strikes, unless they signal a large cultural shift, have little impact on the value of homes.


(Maxime Rieman is a writer for NerdWallet, a financial literacy site that can help you find insurance company and other helpful consumer information.)

 Since we have readers from around the country, chances are the majority of you are not impacted by transit strikes such as the Bay Area is going through. The point here is the significance of selling a home with a "location location location" convenient to commuter transportation.
For those that do not live convenient to commuter trains or buses, information such as this means you should be ready to show potential buyers how other advantages and amenities your home provides would outweigh "commuting advantages".

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Impact of the Improved Rental Market

Some interesting findings in the just released CoreLogic report regarding rentals across the country. Overall, it COULD be good news for the entire real estate industry. Emphasis on "could". Home owners and realty agents need to make it good news. Here is why.

CoreLogic's "Renter Applicant Risk Index" shows a rise in rental applicant scores in terms of credit and "ability to meet lease obligations" among what it terms "prospective apartment renters" over the past year. In addition, the other significant finding from this report is that applicant incomes were up during the first quarter of 2013 compared with last year. (This report includes single family rentals as well as multi-family housing.)

As positive as this sounds, it seems odd that while the economy struggles and job uncertainty and availability has shown little to no change in most areas that more people are better qualified to rent. We need to explore why that is.

My theory is that too many people are afraid of buying a home in this market and plan to wait it out. Part of this is the fear of losing a job and factors not directly tied in to the real estate market. In addition, the days of merely sitting on a home and having the value increase are long gone. Until or unless they return, a percentage of people will be content to rent.

Many of those who fit into one or both of those categories currently have the funds to make a decent monthly payment, but do not wish to commit long term. Hence, the ability to rent for six months to one year and have the flexibility to buy if conditions improve.

Meanwhile, too many home owners who are not able to get what they need for their homes and thus cannot sell, are not interested in renting their homes as a means to get into another property.

This is why the research report COULD be good news. With so many more and qualified rental candidates out there, why can't more sellers offer a "rent to buy" situation for their home?

It will take the realty agents to come around to this way of thinking, and to this point I'm not seeing it. While it does delay a full commission to the agent, an agent having several "rent to buy" situations is setting up for a nice payday down the road even though much of the "work" will have already been done.

Hopefully instead of waiting for the realty association to publish statistics comparing home sales to past years (which is not a motivation for a potential buyer), they will begin to promote a "rent to buy" scenario as an option to get sellers out of their current property.

The fewer homes for sale there are at a given time, the better the chance that home prices will return to previous levels and again show promise of profit potential over the years.

By not doing so, and with the increase in "quality" rental candidates, chances are many current home owners looking to sell are losing out because qualified "buyers" are renting where they know there are availabilities instead.

That is why these renters statistics COULD be good news. But first, the potential renters need the additional choices that current home owners could give them!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Getting Your Philly Of A Deal

Residential investors and rehabbers have what looks to be a great opportunity coming up on Tuesday (7/16) in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Housing Authority is ready to, for only the third time, allow for as many as 196 vacant homes (or residential lots) to be auctioned off. Winning bidders receive special benefits for handling the rehab work and are being given up to five years to resell.

The PHA has even allowed the auction company handling this to publish a map of each available property and encourage potential bidders to check out the property BEFORE bidding.

For a contractor which specializes in specific forms of rehab, this could literally be a gold mine, with as many as five days to scope out those properties which they could "fix" with the least amount of challenges for them.

Better yet, the Housing Authority has a link to all of the information, as well as providing links to the map of where these properties are:


If I were a home owner in Philly, I'd be checking back to see what nearby plots sold for after this auction, to see if my home could have more to offer, and faster, to a potential buyer for the area. Even if the sale price of a nearby "fixer" is much lower than years, if you can be in the ballpark with what currently exists, this could create a near future sale opportunity for you.

And if I were a realty agent in the area, I'd be on top of property values surrounding these homes to see where the best deals could be. It wouldn't hurt to alert investors who are clients. After all, they would be buying to sell off, and somebody needs to handle that transaction when the time comes.

Hopefully more cities will do this, instead of ignoring eyesore properties and not helping the real estate market at all.